Life after Wayne Gretzky was never going to be the same in the NHL and after he retired, fans wanted to know who would fill his skates. Being compared to the greatest hockey player who ever lived is a compliment, but did those who were live up to the hype? These are all of the players dubbed ‘The Next One’ who critics thought would go on to break Gretzky’s records.
The Great One
Before we look at the players looking to dethrone Gretzky as the greatest of all time, we should take a look at how good the Canadian legend was. Wayne Gretzky played as a center from 1978 to 1999 and enjoyed 20 years of dominance on the ice. He won four Stanley Cups and broke countless records along the way.
Most of the records he broke still belong to him. Not only is Gretzky the highest scorer of all time in the NHL with 894 regular season goals and 122 postseason scores. He has the most goals in a single season, the most career assists, most overall points, most overtime assists, and pretty much another 30 records on top of those.
Gretzky was incredible, and most likely the best we’ll ever see on the ice. There is always hope for the future though, and there have been several hopefuls trying to take his crown. This is how they measured up to The Great One.
People thought that Canadian center Eric Lindros could be the guy to replace Gretzky at the top of the sport. Lindros made his debut while Gretzky was still playing so we could see them compete side by side. Lindros was effective on the ice and averaged more than a goal per game, but his playing style had its downsides.
Because he was so aggressive, he ended up suffering injuries that kept him out of the game for a long time. While he wasn’t as good as Gretzky, he was still making waves in the NHL. He is in the top ten fastest players to get to 300, 400, 500, and 600 career points. Lindros won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1995 but was never able to win a Stanley Cup, making him one of the best to never win it.
His skill on the ice earned him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016, but he never managed to outshine Gretzky’s achievements.
Before Paul Kariya entered the NHL, he was already being compared to Gretzky thanks to his speed and grace across the ice. He was good with the puck at the end of his stick and he had an eye for a pass. Considering how much Gretzky loved an assist, this was an important attribute for any player being compared with The Great One to have.
His coaches believed he had great instincts as a player and he always seemed to be one step ahead of the game. His achievements in the sport will be overshadowed by the fact he was unable to win a Stanley Cup, though he did win the hearts of the Mighty Ducks support. After being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017, the Mighty Ducks retired his jersey in 2018.
Excitement followed Sidney Crosby around everywhere he went when he first came to the NHL. He was the number one draft pick in 2005 and didn’t waste much time establishing himself in the league. While other potential candidates to fill Gretzky’s skates were unable to capture Stanley Cup glory, Crosby did it in just four years.
He has won the Stanley Cup another two times since then and as he is still active in the NHL so could match Gretzky on four. Crosby has two Hart Memorial Trophies to his name already, and the Canadian center remains an integral part of the Pittsburgh Penguins team. He has been named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history so while he didn’t overtake Gretzky, Crosby has lived up to the hype.
When Tavares was the number one draft pick in 2009, many people thought he would go on to emulate Gretzky’s accomplishments on the ice. While he is undoubtedly one of the best players in the league, he has yet to win a Stanley Cup and hasn’t been a regular in the playoffs. There is still time left in his career to add major wins to his resume, but as things stand, he has fallen short of the expectations on him.
In Connor McDavid’s short NHL career so far he has shown that he could well be the next Wayne Gretzky. At just 19 years old he was named the youngest ever captain of the Edmonton Oilers, The Great One’s former team. He has already won the Hart Memorial Trophy, and it’s likely only a matter of time before he inspires his team to Stanley Cup glory.
These players had mixed fortunes when it came to outstanding NHL careers. Most of them were good enough to be considered stars in their own rights, but very few could live with the pressure of being compared to The Great One.